Neshama’s Choices for October 2nd

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Gods of Want by K-Ming Chang   

Possibly the most surrealist stories I’ve ever encountered. The author is only 25 years old but her writing seems sprung from timeless myths stirred into the contemporary world.  I could never pinpoint location; some refer to “the islands” but most are set somewhere in America. Chang’s primary protagonists are girls who want to be boys. Families tend to be very large. Lots of images of crosses, and ghosts abound.  I had to read these stories in small chunks, like exotic foods that tickle the tongue but develop a slow burn going down.  But giddy flights of imagination cloaked in language that seems matter of fact at first but sneaks in striking phrases make for fascinating reading.  


The Nursery by Silvia Molnar   

Our unnamed protagonist is a translator by trade, working from home.  Now she has a little baby and it’s far from sweetness and light to the point where she develops murderous thoughts towards this new being.  A grumpy old neighbor, Peter, annoyed by the constant crying, comes into her life and somehow an alliance of sorts springs up between them. Her husband John does what he can to help but there are long stretches when he’s not around and isolation can be dangerous. A vivid depiction of maternal stresses and a surprising connection—awkward but essential.  


Always the Almost by Edward Underhill  

A feel-good teen book about transgender kids—ahh! (Many in this genre tend to be grim.) When Melissa (dead name) claims his identity as Miles, there goes Shane who’d previously been a great boyfriend. Enter Eric, Black and charming, who offers unconditional friendship. Miles is a pianist in a high-stakes competition and his fierce, eccentric new teacher goads him to 1) discover who he is and 2) connect with joy in music-making. Of course, challenges abound but there’s a lovely denouement.  As the grandmother of a nonbinary person, I gobble up whatever will help me understand the territory and this is a particularly gratifying read.  


Small Mercies by Dennis Lehane  

Forced desegregation in Boston, circa 1974, was a dreadful time. Mary Pat is a furious mother whose fighting spirit initially erupts in resistance.  She’s already lost a son to drugs and then her 16-year-old daughter Jules goes missing.  Jules is implicated in the death of a young Black man, son of Mary Pat’s coworker, nicknamed Dreamy. Turns out Jules was mixed up with a very influential married man and the powers that be on both sides of the law are scrambling to cover it up. So Mary Pat takes the law into her own hands, does considerable damage, and by the end of the book reaches out to Dreamy—they’re both mothers laid low by unimaginable loss. This is a historical novel, you could say, but I realized it didn’t take place that long ago. The story back then seems so raw, but it certainly got me reflecting on current day affairs. Powerful.